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Editorial: School Choice gets cold shoulder

School Choice is a policy that deserves careful consideration and review by the administration and board that runs a potential host school.

The intent when the policy was promulgated at the state level was to provide students and their families with a sort of “safety valve” when it came to dissatisfaction with the public schools they would normally attend. This was seen as a real benefit for those families who might not be able to afford sending their child to a private school — or where the student failed to gain admission to an area charter school.

School districts, too, were supposed to benefit from opening their doors to School Choice. In welcoming these students and their families, their interests, talents and perspectives were added to the classroom and community mix.

And, accepting School Choice students also provided an additional revenue source, one that helped districts supplement what they getting from their taxpaying base. While the money that followed the student didn’t cover all of the per-pupil cost, it nevertheless could help districts with the budget.

Some districts quickly and willingly accepted School Choice when it was unveiled as part of the state’s educational reform effort in the early 1990s, others were slower in becoming receiving districts. And we’ve also seen the potential of the siphoning off of valuable parental and financial resources from districts that were having trouble.

Today, the idea continues to have its supporters and detractors ... but, regardless of how one might feel, School Choice is clearly here to stay.

Which brings us to Greenfield and a proposed move by the School Committee to stop accepting students who want to “choice into” the district.

During the past decade or so, the community has witnessed two periods of serious outflow of students from its schools. Both times were tied to budget cuts and leadership issues within the schools and School Committee, and more than $1 million was lost to the district as students left via School Choice.

Now, through stability and hard work both within the schools and out, Greenfield has become a place that families want their children to be. The spigot of students leaving has been turned way down and more and more families outside the town are expressing an interest in joining the Greenfield school community — although the ratio is still lopsided. At present there are 69 students who have opted into Greenfield while more than 300 are still choicing out.

Given how few students are actually being added to that incoming list — about six per year, according to Superintendent Susan Hollins — we’re not sure why this is an issue. The school system can already limit the number of desks it wants to make available for choice, so we can’t see where receiving students winds up costing Greenfield — nor can we understand the connection between choice and committee members’ expressed desire to focus on improving the education one gets in Greenfield schools.

At Tuesday’s hearing, School Committee members who want this freeze need to provide the public with more information as to why this is necessary — because right now it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

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